An opportunity in direct response television

by Janet Tonner, President, Direct Donor TV

Three weeks ago, Nick talked about how digital advertising is having a moment: nonprofits are seeing increased effectiveness at lower cost.  The data is on fundraising DRTV and we’re seeing the same thing.  There’s a positive perfect storm right now: increased viewership, decreasing prices, and stable or improving response.

Increased viewership: I know I’m watching a bit more now that we are housebound.  According to Nielsen, TV viewership is up over 60% year-over-year.  This is most pronounced in channels with news or escapist fare:

– CNN is up 170% year-over-year
– Lifetime is up 68%
– Fox News is up 45%
– BET is up 42%
– TLC is up 38%

But more important for donor acquisition is the behavior of older Americans.  There, the top 15 most-watched channels as of last week (by minutes watched per iSpotTV) splits into three basic categories:

– Comfort/feel-good programming: Hallmark (3), Hallmark Movies and Mysteries (4), Lifetime Movies (5), Investigation Discovery (6), Inspiration (7), ION (9), USA (10), Oxygen (11), Disney Channel (13)
– News: Fox News (2), MSNBC (8), CNN (14)
– Spanish language: Univision (1), UniMas (12), Telemundo (15)

All three categories are generally positive ones from a DRTV perspective.  These channels generally work better for fundraising than, for example, sports programming (ESPN is down 60% YoY).  And people aren’t just on a single screen: web browsing has increased by 70% and social media engagement has increased 61%.  That means that when your ad comes on, people have a device ready to act.  It also shows the power of a multichannel campaign where digital ads support DRTV and vice versa.

Decreasing prices: According to the IAB, ad spending has decreased:

– 38 percent in digital ads
– 41 percent on TV
– 45 percent on radio
– 43 percent in print publications
– 51 percent on billboards

This means lower ad prices.  We are seeing rates dropping for some networks by 30 to 50%.  This has not translated to streaming services and over-the-top, as the increase in cord-cutting and viewership has meant advertisers are increasing their spend.

But lower prices and increased viewership wouldn’t be enough if results weren’t keeping up.  Thankfully, we are seeing:

Stable or improving results: Here’s what we’ve seen in recent weeks:

– Cost per Phone Lead is down 11.2%
– Cost per Web Visit is down by 51.7%
– Cost to Acquire a Monthly Donor is down by 13.2%

Anecdotally, call center reps are saying that callers are reporting seeing ads for the first time; this is likely true given increased viewership and changing viewership patterns.

In short, the flight of for-profit advertisers from your television sets means an opportunity for nonprofits to do ads that highlight the increased need that COVID-19 is creating for your vital missions.  And, as with digital advertising, this window is likely temporary.

If you’d like to learn more about DRTV, feel free to drop me a line at  And if you are looking to get more out of your PSAs during this time, our sister company 1st Degree can help you.


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